Reindeer research reaches youth

Grace Bieber/Sun Star Reporter
April 23, 2013

Researchers sell reindeer antlers to support their program. Grace Bieber/Sun Star

Researchers sell reindeer antlers to support their program. Grace Bieber/Sun Star

The first reindeer calf of the year was born on March 30 at UAF’s experiment farm. The reindeer are part of the Reindeer Research Program.

According to Program Manager Greg Finstad, the calf was born about two weeks early this year, as the peak for reindeer births is usually around mid April. Finstad first started working with the program in 1982 when the program began. The program was created to provide a local meat source, and to study the reindeer for continued improvement in production and quality.  “It really brought the reindeer industry into modern meat production,” Finstad said.

As part of the program’s outreach to school children, children can submit different names for the reindeer on its website. “We help teach a K-12 curriculum as part of our educational outreach program,” Finstad said, “part of that is visiting the schools to get the younger kids more engaged in the reindeer program.”

Darrell Blodgett, the data specialist for the program said some of the names submitted this year were Sarah Palin, Stew and T-Bone.

Finstad said that he prefers names like these because, “It gives them the right idea. We want them to keep in mind that these reindeer are for food.” At the end of July the calves are weaned when they reach about 45 kilos or 99 pounds. After weaning, each staff member picks out three or four names that they like and then they vote on them.  By the time the reindeer are ready for their adult tags, the researchers know their personalities, according to Erin Carr, a research technician, “Some of the names really fit the deer, like Hoodini, any time we weighed him he would sneak away,” Carr said.

Before the reindeer are given names they are assigned numbers which tell the researchers important information about the reindeer. Tags in the left ear show that they are females, while tags in the right ear show that they are males.

“You know the year they are born, you know the sex and what order they were born in just by looking at the tag,” Carr said. The tags also help the researchers to better keep track of and locate the reindeer. Carr takes better care of the reindeer, gives tours of the farm to school children and mixes feed.

According to Findstad, one of the most rewarding aspects about teaching children about reindeer is knowing  it leaves an impression on the students. Sometimes he will be recognized by a student years later, “If you can do something that someone remembers later, you feel good that you made an impact.”

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